BBC governors spurned legal advice

Leaked to the 'The Independent': 135-page document accuses Alastair Campbell of misleading Parliament
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BBC governors spurned their lawyers' advice that Lord Hutton's report was legally flawed and instead offered the fulsome apology that Downing Street demanded, it emerged last night.

A 135-page confidential document, leaked to The Independent, accuses Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications chief, of making "false" statements to Parliament over his role in drawing up the September 2002 dossier.

The BBC's lawyers also suggested that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, misled MPs over disquiet within the intelligence community over the dossier, the main plank in the Government's case for war. They go on to outline 12 main areas Lord Hutton ignored in his report, delivered eight days ago, and say his findings were "wrong" in law.

BBC staff were infuriated that the governors capitulated so quickly in the aftermath of the report's publication. They feel the governors panicked because Lord Hutton came down so heavily against the BBC over its broadcast of Andrew Gilligan's report, which suggested that there was disquiet within the intelligence community over the dossier.

The document's disclosure will fuel indignation within the BBC, and will reignite the row between the BBC and No 10. It will add to the criticism of the Hutton report, dismissed as a "whitewash" by some MPs.

One BBC source said yesterday: "It shows that we could have mounted a strong and convincing fightback."

According to BBC insiders, the lawyers' advice could have provided the basis for the corporation to challenge Lord Hutton's findings, possibly by seeking a judicial review. Sources say it was discussed only briefly by BBC governors, who were engulfed in the crisis that saw the resignation of Gavyn Davies as BBC chairman and the ousting of Greg Dyke as director general.

The attack on Mr Campbell comes in a section headed "Misleading Parliament", which contrasts his evidence to Lord Hutton with his previous appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) last June, when he was questioned about his role in compiling the dossier that claimed Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

The BBC report says: "Campbell falsely told the FAC that all the drafts on the 45-minute claim remained the same from the time they were first submitted to him. Campbell falsely told the FAC he had not suggested any change to the 45-minute claim.

"Campbell excluded that point in his memorandum to the FAC. Campbell also excluded other changes he suggested from his memorandum to the FAC. The only sensible conclusion was he was deliberately selective in what he disclosed to the FAC, despite having the original drafts in front of him."

Government documents released later to the inquiry, which began last August, showed Mr Campbell sought 15 changes to the draft of the dossier.

The lawyers insist the decision to run Mr Gilligan's report was justified under the "freedom of expression" provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and previous legal rulings that the media does not need to prove allegations before publishing them.

Downing Street said last night: "Lord Hutton made his judgments. People should read the report and accept Lord Hutton's conclusions."

In the Commons yesterday, Tony Blair defended the Government's response to Hutton's report and its insistence on a full apology by the BBC. He said: "The allegation being made, not just against me, but against Alastair Campbell and to an extent, against the security services themselves, was we had done something improper or wrong, in effect, falsifying the intelligence I presented to Parliament.

"That accusation never had a shred of evidence to it. It could never be supported I am glad it has been withdrawn now and I think it should have been withdrawn in the first place."

Lord Birt, the former BBC director general, told peers: "At the root of this crisis was a slipshod piece of journalism. Let us be clear, it was not 'mostly right'. The central thrust of the story was unfounded.

"But let us also be clear, the subject of the reporters' inquiry - the dossier - was entirely legitimate. It was the treatment of the story that was deeply unsatisfactory."